Friday, May 29, 2009

Mysterious Origins of North Hills Museum

After I made my post on North Hills Museum earlier this week I received a question by email. Essentially, the question was about the origins of North Hills Museum and a mysterious beam which is inscribed “1702”. For those of you not familiar with this little museum, it is located across the water from Annapolis Royal in the picturesque community of Granville Ferry. While it is a very charming building, there is indeed a mystery about its origins.

When Robert Pallen Patterson purchased the house from the Amberman family in the 1960s, he did so thinking that it may be the oldest building in Nova Scotia. These thoughts were based on a beam in the house which was inscribed “1702” and the presence of wattle and daub in one wall. Wattle and daub is a technique of infilling walls using clay and a lattice of wooden boards. This technique was quite common in Acadian houses but much less so during the post 1710 British period. Both of these features would testify to an early construction date.

In the 1730s the property was granted to Benjamin Rumsey, Clerk of the Cheque to the Board of Ordinance. Rumsey was essentially in charge of finances for the Garrison at Fort Anne. Rumsey may have built this building sometime in the 1760s as a rental property as his actual house was located on the other side of the Basin in Round Hill.

In 1784 the property comes into the possession of the Amberman family. The Ambermans were Loyalists of Dutch origins who were fleeing New York City at the end of the American Revolution. The deed states that the property was purchased from fellow New York Loyalist refugee Peter Ryerson. The Dutch origins of the Amberman Family may provide another explanation to the presence of wattle and daub in the walls. One of the few remaining examples of this sort of construction in Nova Scotia can be seen in the Ditmars house in Clementsport. The Ditmars, who were also of Dutch extraction, were related by marriage to the Ambermans. Both families could have been using a construction technique commonly found in contemporary buildings in the Netherlands.

So, what of the origins? Despite the “1702” beam I feel that this building was probably built by the Ambermans or in the 1760s. The beam could easily be recycled from an earlier structure on the site or exist within a section of the house which predates the rest. Hopefully, we will be able to undertake dendrocronological (tree ring dating) testing on the building in a future round of testing. This work has already helped to solve some mysteries in Annapolis Royal.

I have chosen this particular picture since it clearly shows the form of the building. This image clearly does not show the property at its best as it was taken in the early Spring, but trees and shrubs can make for obstructions to viewing form. In terms of building style, this house is a fairly standard mid 1700s saltbox. In the traditional saltbox style you can see the differing roof lines on either side of the house. The wishbone chimney, the dominant architectural feature in the interior of the house, can be seen at the left end of the building.

All for now,
RGS

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